While many people are familiar with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ high-profile advertising campaigns against the mistreatment of animals, the biomedical research community often remains quiet amid public assaults on animal research.

The imposition of stricter laws and regulations governing research over the past 30 years signifies success for animal rights groups, but many activists believe vast improvements stand to be made. Researchers contend, however, that the use of animals in research is a necessary and humane way to conduct studies and further scientific efforts. Despite their differing ideological views, animal rights activists and scientists at the University and beyond say the ongoing struggle is likely to continue to impact future research ventures.

Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, said initial policy to protect animal research was crafted in 1966. However, legislation was not clearly outlined until 1985, when amendments made to the Animal Welfare Act set forth more comprehensive regulations for the use of lab animals.

“The AWA set standards with regard to their housing, cleanliness, ventilation and medical needs,” Trull said. “It also requires the use of anesthesia or analgesic drugs.”

Trull added that updates to the U.S. Public Health Service Act in 2002 made it harder for institutions to receive grants from federal institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Under the PHS policy, institutions must follow detailed animal care recommendations and establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to ensure that all animals are treated responsibly and humanely,” Trull said.

Pat Brown, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare at the National Institute of Health, said a peer review system is in place to provide funding only towards quality projects that have exceeded federal standards.

“The laws and policies require federally-supported scientists to be accountable from the time they first plan their research and to the time the research is completed to protect the welfare of animals used in research,” Brown said.

Nevertheless, according to PETA, peer review and animal care and use committees don’t effectively prevent studies that endanger animals. PETA’s website states that many committees approve studies “without question” and do not fairly represent the interests of animals.

Despite controversy over the ethics of animal studies, Ian Demsky, spokesman for the University of Michigan Health System, wrote in an e-mail that University research has progressed significantly through the use of animal research.

Demsky listed several major medical advances made by the University as a result of animal research, including the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which was developed using a sheep model in the 1970s and now helps patients maintain heart and lung functions worldwide.

Robert Dysko, director of the University’s Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine, said the University implemented multiple policies to ensure animal safety before stricter laws took effect, including the formation of the University Committee on the Use and Care of Animals.

“The University of Michigan takes pride in the animal care programs and the animal research efforts that are undertaken here at the University,” Dysko said. “We all take our roles very seriously. People like me and my colleagues are needed to make sure the animals are cared for properly and the procedures that are used are the best and most humane.”

Dysko added that there are various University-specific policies that govern animal research on campus, including the University of Michigan Policy Statement on Animal Research and the Standard Procedures and Guidelines for Animal Use at U-M.

Still, LSA junior Akshay Verma, director for the Michigan Animals Rights Society, wrote in an e-mail that he believes laws and policies governing animal research are still too weak and loosely enforced.

“Every year, more than 100 million animals suffer and die in academic and commercial research, cosmetic testing and educational training,” Verma wrote. “Along with primates, dogs and cats, 95 percent of these animals include rats, mice, birds, and others that are not even nominally protected under the Animal Welfare Act.”

According to Verma, the University doesn’t have a history of supporting humane treatment of animals used in research, and use animals provided from dubious sources.

“Class B dealers, which the University works with, are notorious for their violations of the Animal Welfare Act.” Verma wrote. “Students can demand their universities to become more transparent in research and adopt alternatives.”

Verma added that proponents of animal research deceive the public by portraying all research as imperative to the advancement of human medicine.

“The reality of the matter is animals are legally used in high numbers for curiosity-driven research projects and cosmetic testing that the general public would not deem necessary,” Verma wrote.

Verma also included examples of animal research practices at the University that he believes violate federal laws, including experiments involving inducing cocaine addiction in rats, placing rats in cylinders of water and isolating squirrel monkeys for weeks.

Verma added that he believes advances in technology and increased public awareness on the issue will help reduce the use of animals in research and the pursuit of unnecessary research.

University of California, Los Angeles neuroscientist David Jentsch, a member of the board of directors of Americans for Medical Progress, said some of the current technology that replaced animal research over the past 30 years would not be possible without discoveries made through animal research.

“Cell cultures, computational models — the things you hear people talk about that are alternatives to animal research in every case — emerged because scientists discovered in the course of a study a more technologically sophisticated way of doing the study,” Jentsch said.

Jentsch, who noted that his car was once blown up by animal activists, added that it doesn’t make sense for activists to target only animal researchers, but also institutions like fast food chains.

“If animal activists were honest, they are against animal research and (they) are against you because you eat Burger King,” Jentsch said. “(If this were true,) then they would have no support.”

LSA freshman Jasmine Garmo said she supports animal research as long as ethical guidelines and animal welfare laws are observed.

“I am all for animal rights, but I also believe that the recent regulations set in place have made animal research safer and not as detrimental for the animals involved,” Garmo said.

Engineering freshman Aditya Chintalapati said as long as the testing is done in humane ways, it should not be an issue.

“However, I don’t think it’s going to be necessary in the future,” Chintalapati said. “In the future, technology will become more sophisticated and most of testing will be done by computers.”

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